The subdudes: Behind the Levee
By Steve Morley
You won’t often hear the subdudes on the radio, and their name is usually mispronounced (the emphasis should be on the second syllable).
Their lower case name matches their subdued sound. Although their sound is low-key, this doesn’t mean it lacks energy. Since reforming in 2004, the subdudes have picked up where they left off in 1997, serving a gumbo of scaled-down, New Orleans-meets-Memphis soul characterized by the easy wheeze of accordion, a trick bag of nimble rhythms coaxed from a solitary tambourine and the lived-in voice and saucy guitar of Tommy Malone.
Part of the band’s initial charm, aside from its unique instrumentation and low-perspiration approach, has been the tendency to keep the subject matter light. On the subdudes latest CD, Behind the Levee, there’s a shift toward social consciousness that assumes greater significance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina which hit not long after the album was recorded in the band’s home base of
Katrina’s wake provides subtext for tracks like Next to Me, which simply and sincerely reminds us that home is less about geography than being in the presence of loved ones. One Word questions America’s growing suspicion of Muslims and other foreigners living inside U.S. borders, while Papa Dukie, a summery bopper with an arresting “na-na-na” singalong hook, genially promotes tolerance towards unorthodox young people who are a threat only to those unwilling to look past harmless youthful nonconformity.
On initial hearing, the album can seem scattered in focus; but taken as a whole, it acknowledges the external and personal distresses that, in turn, create an understandable longing for easy answers and escape from anxiety and unrelenting trouble.
The record’s most whimsical track, Social Aid and Pleasure Club effectively weds the CD’s themes-in-tension with a tale of a fictional agency where funky grooves emanate from behind an inviting storefront doorway and assistance cheerfully awaits inside.